Over time, families develop their own private mythology, so to speak. Down the weeks and months and years, distinctive metaphors and figures of speech start to accrete around the ordinary stuff of life. For instance, when dealing with the emotional ups and downs that came with caring for a chronically ill family member, we would exhort one other to “stop riding the roller coaster.” Similarly, when I was a child, my mother would urge me to avoid grudges by saying, “Don’t hug the cactus.” Such admonitions might sound a little silly when taken out of context, but they can offer surprisingly wise insight. That’s a truth Nicole Lataif seems to have grasped with I Forgive You: Love We Can Hear, Ask For, and Give, a child’s primer on a basic Christian concept that’s both weighty and wacky.
But it’s not in any way, shape, or form less important. According to The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, the Bible uses seven separate words in two languages to communicate the concept of forgiveness, its verbiage emphasizing everything from “covering” and “pardoning” to “putting aside” and “letting go.” How in the world do you communicate such a complex concept to little ones? Well, Lataif starts with a simple refrain that emphasizes God’s free grace: “Wherever you go, / Whatever you do, / You can hear an ‘I forgive you.’” She moves on from there to the subtleties. For instance, Lamentations 3:22-23 gets recast as a catchy couplet (“No matter what you do, / [God] never says, ‘I’m through with you’”). She also emphasizes that forgiveness isn’t without cost; it always involves consequences, à la Hebrews 12:5-6 (“Forgiveness may still mean consequences: / Like lights-out, / Or going without, / Or a timeout”).
But the book doesn’t stay stuck in the didactic. Lataif seems to understand that kiddos need more than abstract aphorisms. Practical stuff is important—and that’s where the idiosyncratic similes come in. I Forgive You isn’t merely content to say, “True friendship has forgiveness.” It also adds:
Not forgiving is scarier than the meanest monster.
It feels like the slimiest slug.
It smells like the dirtiest dumpster.
It tastes like the biggest bug.
Not exactly what you’d expect from theological book, but its very vividness helps the concept stick in small minds. Perhaps that’s why resentment gets compared to “having an elephant in your heart” that swells until it smashes it apart or how forgiveness can be “slow like a snail” while still eventually getting to where it needs to be. Illustrator Katy Betz underscores it all with vividly colored pictures of everything from scuba divers exploring underwater wreckage to spacemen tending gardens on Mars. Engaging stuff on an important matter of which we all need to be reminded.
(Picture: Copyright 2014 by Katy Betz; used under Fair Use)